Driving to a Hermosa Beach coffee shop to meet with local webisode director and actress Rory Uphold plays out almost exactly like an episode of her newly released locally filmed web series.
I park the car in front of a “One Hour Parking” sign, set my iPhone timer for an hour and enjoy an almost forty five minute interview with the bubbly blonde 28-year-old Southern California native. Warmed by the conversation, coffee in hand, I amble back to my car only to find a bright yellow parking ticket on the window. All the relaxation derived from the interview fades immediately. I’m enraged. I check my iPhone timer and see seven minutes of the hour timer still remaining. I jump into my car and tear out of my parking spot – cursing all pedestrians who get in my way.
For Uphold, those scenes are the quintessential Los Angeles moments she tries to capture in her web series, HelLA (Hell+LA). Her first episode, “Shopping in L.A” was launched one month ago on her website, OnlyinHelLA.com and immediately went viral after being featured on the popular website Funny or Die.
“The response was completely amazing,” said Uphold, whose first three videos received over 1.2 million hits in just a month. “I got the idea for the series after I kept seeing all these Buzzfeed lists online about why everybody hates L.A.”
Viral lists included, “30 Things You’re Only Afraid Of If You Live in Los Angeles,” and contain quotes like, “That you forget to move your car for street cleaning,” or “Driving on the highway during an earthquake,” and “Model/Actor/Whatevers.”
Uphold decided to make her own show after being told by casting directors that she didn’t fit the typical Hollywood mold.
“I was really sick of being this actor that was not pretty, too young, too fat, to whatever, too blonde,” said Uphold. “Everybody wanted me to dye my hair brown because my personality doesn’t ‘fit’ that of a blonde haired blue eyed girl.”
Her first video played up the L.A. model stereotype with Uphold in a shop with a friend trying on a dress. In the video, her friend assures her that she looks great. “You look tiny… You look like a model,” her friend says. Uphold takes in the compliment and smiles as Victoria’s Secret model Heather Marks walks out of the dressing rooms, looking exceptionally great in the exact same dress. Uphold’s smile fades. “No,” Marks says matter-of-factly, rejecting the dress as she looks at herself in the mirror. “Maybe you should try something else on,” her friend suggests.
Submitted by Rory Uphold
“I think L.A. people get it,” Uphold said. “I think everybody can relate… to walking out in the same dress as somebody; maybe they’re not supermodel Heather Marks, but it’s similar. I like to think they perpetuate the [L.A] stereotypes but also hope they dismantle them. I’m shining a light on all these funny moments and making them stand out, but I’m doing them in a way that is sarcastic.”
28-year-old actress and Los Angeles native Jackie Singer is featured in many of Uphold’s HelLA videos.
“There’s a lot of shows and content about L.A like Entourage and a lot of it’s so glamorized,” Singer said. “I was drawn to this project because there are a lot of people who move here with an idea of what this city is, and feel like they have to fulfill it, but the truth is that there’s actually a darker side… There’s this love-hate relationship with L.A where there are so many good things like the weather and it’s laid-back lifestyle. But Rory’s taking these hilariously painful moments that people who live here can really relate to and there’s something really cathartic and fun about watching them. People watching will see the parking episode and be like, ‘that literally just happened to me.’”
For Uphold, creating the series was a culmination of a year’s worth of ideas and collaboration with local friends in the movie industry. Uphold added that most of the people working on the series volunteered their time because they were passionate about the project.
“I basically cast it by picking up the phone,” said Uphold, who filmed multiple episodes in local shops like Grow and Two Guns Espresso. “I definitely took it seriously, I wanted it to be the best it could be. I mean, I’m not just doing this for my health.”
Her first season of webisodes that was shot in three days will contain at least 12 one to three minute episodes and will be released on the website every Tuesday.
“I wouldn’t have been able to make the series and it wouldn’t have been as beautiful without the support of the community,” said Uphold, who is also a Hermosa Beach native. “I really love the South Bay and tried to keep things really, really local.”
Along with the positive support she’s been receiving from online commenter’s, Uphold has also been the victim of some negative online insults.
“Eat less you fat f*ck,” one commenter said.
“Wow that thin tall ass blonde looks awful, it’s like she hasn’t eaten in weeks and is seconds away from collapsing,” another YouTube commenter wrote.
“It really incited this huge debate on the internet about body image and beauty and skinny versus fat,” Uphold said. “I was even called a fat Hobbit by somebody. That was my favorite, but there’s a lot of really mean [stuff] on there.”
Uphold said that she get the ideas for the clips from everyday life, and she’s always writing about her experiences.
“She’s showing these really funny things that happen in L.A. and are actually really Universal,” said Singer. “It’s really refreshing and thought provokingly funny. Everything really feels like it could happen, and it has… Everybody can relate to trying on clothes and being really hard on yourself, but especially when you live in a city where models are commonplace.”
Uphold said that she wants to make sure that viewers know that most people in L.A. aren’t all ‘vapid’ and into their juice cleanses.
“Ultimately this is a really amazing city that has great weather that allows people to be really creative,” said Uphold. “I think that there’s this weird stigma against L.A. for being really superficial – which it is – but I always say New York is physically challenging, and L.A. is mentally challenging.”