Emily Neiman & Olivia D’Agostino – High’rd Help

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By: Jamie Steinberg


Q) Where did the idea for High’rd Help come from?
Emily: The idea for “High’rd Help” came from me sitting on my couch, with a blank word document open, trying to think of a comedic short film I could write. And for some reason I thought of how awkward I was in high school and how great it would be if I had some sort of guidance. Which lead to the thought of, “What if we had a guardian angel when we came out? What if that guardian angel was assigned to a hopeless case? What if that guardian angel was an asshole?” And thus, “High’rd Help’ was born.
Q) Each episode is typically around two minutes in length. Talk about the decision to make the episodes so brief.
Emily: This was my first time writing a whole series and so I think that really played a big part in the episode length. Also, because of time constraints with locations and the fact we shot roughly 80 pages in six days, that was also something that was taken into consideration.
Olivia: I think the episode length was a learning that we took from writing season one and it’s definitely something that we have discussed in terms of changes for the upcoming season. Also, as Emily mentioned, we definitely took our location availability into account when shooting because most of our locations were on a time constraint, so we wanted to try and be realistic with how much we could shoot in that time.

Q) Emily, the series was initially your idea. How did you come to team up with Olivia to write for the show?
Emily: I met Olivia through Tumblr, through a friend of hers who I was talking to at the time. I had mentioned I was writing a queer webseries and I was then led to Olivia who I was promised was “a responsible adult who lives in Toronto and probably owns like two credit cards, which totally means she’s responsible.”  So, I contacted her through Tumblr and read some of her stuff and knew she was talented, so we talked and I gave her a brief description and then we met and now we’re friends and she can’t get rid of me.

Q) How did you and Olivia keep your different ideas counterbalanced?
Emily: We actually never really had a dispute about ideas. We get along well and I trust her enough that if she believes in something strongly enough, then I know it’ll be good. But yeah, we never really had any ideas that differed extremely.
Olivia: I think we struck a really good balance when brainstorming the direction we wanted the story to go in. Emily had the original concept and character backgrounds and I just kind of bounced ideas off of her from that. Whenever we disagreed we either found a compromise or found ways to listen to one another to ultimately go with what would be best for the story. I think a lot of the reason that we worked so well together was that we both trust and respect each other a lot. So, we were open to listening to one another and encouraging each other’s ideas.

Q) How did Charlie originally get stuck in limbo as a Guardian Angel?
Emily: Charlie (Mara Goldbloom) mentions that she wasn’t the “best” person when she was on Earth. She lived in the 40s/50s and died at the age of eighteen so she mostly got up to some petty crimes. So because of this, she’s stuck in limbo and can’t get free until she helps. However, we can’t divulge too much, because spoilers for Season Two.
Olivia: We learn a bit about Charlie being in limbo in Season One, but that’s something we really want to delve more into in Season Two. So, like Emily said, that’s all we can say without giving away spoilers. [laughs]

Q) Does Clooney harbor romantic feelings towards Ava or is he just looking out for her as a best friend would?

Emily: Clooney (Drew Doyle) and Ava (Carina Newton) have been best friends for years – since grade three. So, it may sometimes look like romantic feelings, but he’s just looking out for her because well, if he didn’t, she would probably walk into a whole lot more lockers.
Olivia: Clooney cares a lot about Ava and he’s definitely just looking out for as a best friend. He’s not really one to show his emotions that much, but when it comes to Ava and Billy he really would do anything for them and wants to do the best by them whenever he can. He may not show it in the best ways, but he tries. – Olivia

Q) Where does Billy’s constant optimism stem from?
Emily: Billy (Ellie Mamatis) was always the kid who was a little…different, which led to a lot of bullying. So, because of her years of bullying she always tries to see the best in people and to help whoever she can because no one ever saw the best in her when she was younger. Billy never wants anyone to be as sad as she ever was. So, I think that’s a really big part of where her optimism comes from.
Olivia: Billy definitely went through quite a bit as a kid. When she found Ava and Clooney, it’s like she found a family in them and they kind of helped her realize that life didn’t have to be so sad. So, she really tries to keep that focus because she wants the best out of life and wishes the best for everyone around her.

Q) There is a running discussion amongst the group about pickles. What’s the origin of this debate?
Emily: In the show, I would say the origin is probably Billy bringing pickles to school for a snack and Clooney just being an asshole and giving her a hard time because he can, which just spawned Ava to also add to the mockery. The actual origin is based on an actual argument I had with a friend of mine about pickles at work one time, and we still argue about food constantly.
Olivia: We actually toyed with the idea of having pickles in every episode of the season as an Easter egg for fans to find, but never followed through with it. Maybe we’ll try something similar in the next season and see if the fans can pick it out.
Q) Charlie solely wears a white t-shirt, jeans and white Chucks. Is that what you imagine modern teenage angels typically wear? 
Emily: For Charlie’s outfit, I know we discussed that we wanted something simple for her to wear. Also, the whole leather jacket, white t-shirt greaser vibe, but cleaner, is also something we wanted to come through with her outfit. It made it easy as well if Mara spilled something on her shirt to just grab another white tshirt. 

Olivia: We really wanted something simple for Charlie in terms of outfits and I think going with the white theme was just to draw upon the idea that white is associated with the afterlife and angels in general. And Mara did definitely eat a lot in scenes (she opted NOT to use a spit bucket) so we knew with something simple it could be replaced very quickly.

Q) There is such great humor to the dialogue. Do the actors get any input into what their characters say? Is there room for improv?
Emily: Thank you! We do try our hardest to make people laugh with our words. They always have the opportunity to tell us what they think and if they think something should be changed and there’s always room for improv. Most of the things Clooney says after the scene seems to end (ex: Episode 1: when Clooney says, “Where are your shoes?”) are improvisations by Drew. Another example is the end of Episode 3 when Ava looks into the camera like she’s in “The Office.” That was totally Carina’s idea and we were like just go for it. 

Olivia: I’m glad to hear the humor came through in the dialogue! We gave the actors a lot of room to improv while on set. Sometimes during a take if they messed up their lines we let them roll with it because sometimes things they said in the moment felt more organic and natural and translated funnier than what we wrote on script. For the scene with Clooney and Ava where they’re doing math homework together, Drew ended the scene with a different line about her math homework every time and we just let him go with it because it always got the cast and crew laughing because of the element of surprise. That kind of trust that we had in the actors helped foster a mutual respect and I think helped to create a positive and encouraging atmosphere on set.

Q) Ava has a crush on Jane. What has your response been like from the LGBT community?
Emily: I think the response has been pretty good. We wanted to create characters that normalized LGBTQA+ sexualities and that didn’t have the awfully depressing tropes of dying or cheating or the angst. I wanted to create something that I would have been able to watch when I was in high school and know that I wasn’t as different as I thought I was. And that I was as normal as anyone else around me. 

Olivia: When the series first came out, we got a lost of responses that were happy with the fact that Ava was openly into a girl right from the start and done in a way that was just regular and not out of the ordinary. I think people in the LGBT community want to have that sense of normalcy and am glad they have been happy with that with our series.

Q) What do you want to be sure fans know about the series? 

Emily: I think I want fans to know that we aren’t going do the “bait and switch” and there’s not going to be a ton of angst. By bait and switch I mean that it’s a comedy, it’s lighthearted and of course there will be some form of drama. But “High’rd Help” will always remain a comedy about a very queer and awkward Ava, rambling her way through life and her reluctant guardian angel, trailing behind her.

Olivia: We want them to know that we want to keep this a light-hearted and funny series. The story is going to be committed to the characters and their stories and that we want them to have a happy ending because it’s something queer characters deserve.


Q) What can fans do to help promote the series?

Emily: Good question. Just watch the episodes and talk about what they like and what they don’t like. Start a discussion. Reblog stuff. Post any and all of your edits, even if you don’t think it’s good, it is always golden to us.

 

Olivia: Talk about it! If they like the series, blog about it on social media or reach out to any of our social media accounts. Spreading the videos and content about the show also helps a lot with exposure because word of mouth is so key. Also, as Emily said, posting thoughts and edits are always great because not only does it put a smile on the cast and our faces, but it really helps to create a buzz. –


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