Oliva D'Agostino | High'rd Help

She co-wrote the series High'rd Help amongst a multitude of other things she's contributed to the series. Check out our exclusive interview with Olivia D'Agostino and learn more about the web series!

netTVnow: How did you get involved with the web series High’rd Help?

livia D'Agostino: Em (Neiman) had the idea for the story and had done some character work along with some episodes. She was looking for someone to come onto the project to help with some story development and screenwriting, so had reached out to me and the rest is history. 

netTVnow: What attracted you to the series?

OD: One of my first questions when we initially began emailing back and forth was whether or not this story revolved around a “coming out” plot. Em was quick to reassure me that although there were multiple queer characters in the show, that their coming out was not central nor even relevant to the story that she wanted to tell. She told me that she just wanted to create a comedy with characters that happened to be queer, something she wished she had when she was younger to normalize the queer experience.

This was something that automatically caught my attention. Although I can see the value in portraying a coming out story, media is so heavily saturated with those kinds of stories that it was refreshing to hear about one that didn’t go down that route. I was very excited to jump right into this project after knowing that we could create something that helps portray queer people in a positive light. 

netTVnow: I know that you and Emily wrote both seasons together, what is the writing process like when collaborating? How do you guys find that balance to make sure you’re both on the same page in terms of character development?

OD: I think a lot of it was just mutual respect and trust in one another. When I was brought onto first season there were a lot of episodes written already so I didn’t get to write as many episodes as I did for season two. For the upcoming season, we split the episode count down the middle, and I think because we worked really well together in the first season that we felt that trust to let the other do their own thing for their respective episodes.

In terms of finding balance, before writing the episodes we mapped out general plot and character arcs and then once that was settled we did episode breaks for each episode. Since we had that done, we were able to take away the general idea for the episode and then write from that. We check in with each other constantly and often discussed scene ideas ahead of time. I think because we communicated frequently that we were able to keep the character development consistent. Also, it’s just really fun to write together. We love these characters and this story so much that we feel free to joke around about it and be really excited about it. I think that’s really important when working with someone; that kind of passion is infectious and it definitely makes writing together a breeze. 

netTVnow: You also played the role as Executive Producer on the series, what did that entail during the pre/post production phases?

OD: Since we are such a small production, I think that you kind of end up wearing a lot of hats during pre/post production. Basically, if there is something that is not delegated to someone on our team, it means that I’m going to take charge and get it done. Some examples for pre-production was casting, props, wardrobe, social media and budgeting. Some of the post-production duties are mainly marketing - along with social media and budgeting, again.

I think one thing I’d want people to know who are going into a project that is either fairly small in cast/crew and/or budget is to not be tied down to labels so much. It can actually be a really great collaborative experience when on set because then we are all open to listening and respecting one another’s opinions, and also you’ll find that people are willing to help out with things outside of their role when they can. And although it was a lot of work to be tackling a lot of different jobs at once while also holding the job of EP, it was a wonderful experience to get my hands in a bunch of different creative areas. Also, to be clear, although I’m juggling all of these things I want to point out that Em is also doing a million things at once that go way beyond her role of Creator/Director/Writer. She’s doing a lot of the stuff that I mentioned above as well. We definitely lean on each other for support and do the best that we can with our resources to get the job done. 

netTVnow: Was High’rd Help your first web series?

OD: Yes! I feel very lucky to be involved with this web series as my first because I learned so much from our cast and crew along the way. There were a lot of learnings I took from this series that I used going forward for season two and in other projects I’ve worked on since last year. 

netTVnow: The first season featured 22-episodes all close to being around 2-3 minutes in length, what was the creative thought process behind this decision and how did you find yourself being able to write for such a short window of time?

OD: For season one, we focused on getting the story told in a way that made sense. Sometimes that meant shorter episodes. Also, a lot of it was a learning experience because at times when we thought there would be a longer episode, the flow of the dialogue on set or the way that it was edited in post actually had it be shorter than expected. For this season, we still kept true to telling our story in a way that made sense, but also aimed to write longer episodes and have a higher quantity of episodes in total. I think since we saw what we could get done with our first season last year, we knew that we could do more this time around. We wrote longer scripts and filmed them accordingly, then left it up to our editor - Emmerek Vanleur - to make his own creative decisions about the length of episodes. He’s been doing an amazing job at putting episodes together to tell a story from an interesting perspective and we’ve loved some of the choices he’s made with the material we have given him. 

netTVnow: After the success of the first season, did you feel any pressure going into the second season?

OD: One of the great things about High’rd Help is that the fans of the show have been really warm and positive so far. They’re a really supportive group and that has truly been a blessing. When mapping the season out, we did keep in mind little things that were fan favourite moments or running jokes and wanted to include those things in season two as a way to give back. We definitely stayed true to our vision and character/plot arcs, but I think it’s nice to engage with audiences in that way. So because the response has been so positive, I don’t feel that much pressure going into the second season.

I’ll admit that I’m a bit nervous, and I don’t know if it’s just me, but I think with any creative person there are a bit of nerves that go into releasing your work to the public. Even when we got the final cuts for some of the episodes that I wrote this season I was nervous to watch it with Em since it was my writing - even though she knew what was going to happen since she was there when it was shot! However, nerves aside, I’m very proud of the work that we’ve done with this season and I actually can’t wait for our release date because I just want to share this amazing work with the rest of the world as soon as I can.  

netTVnow: Often times web series have very short filming schedules. What was the filming schedule like for your series?

OD: Due to budget and time constraints, we had to narrow the entire filming of season two into five days. We spent one of the days on a university campus to cover some of the school shots and then the remaining days were at two different house locations along with some outdoor shots.

Filming was a lot tighter this time around because we had less shooting days, longer episodes and more episodes than last season. Our cast and crew were all-stars, though, and worked hard to get in amazing performances under pressure. What I liked about this season’s filming was that although we were under a tighter time constraint and had more work to do, the cast and crew still managed to be relaxed and playful, which I think helps keep the vibe on set light and comedic. I was very lucky to have worked with such a professional and fun group. 

netTVnow: Which character do you think you relate to the most?

OD: I think I probably relate to Billy and Charlie the most. With Billy, she tries to see the best in people and holds the people in her life very highly. She’d do anything for her found family and I think that for me, the people in my life that have stood by my side - regardless of whether they’re related to me or not - are always going to be a high priority for me. She also always wants to help people and fix things and sometimes I’m guilty of neglecting my own issues to try and help a friend in need. She’s also super weird and I am, too. On the flip side, Charlie’s use of sarcasm and jokes as a defence mechanism and a way to relate to people is a huge part of my personality. She’s also very loyal once you get on her good side, and I see that kind of fierce devotion with the people I care about as well. And I’ll admit: her general disdain of the people around her is basically me on a bad day, haha. 

netTVnow: What are some things that go on behind-the-scenes that most audience members don’t know?

OD: I think honestly one of the biggest things that audiences aren’t aware of - and I don’t think this is just in High’rd Help, but in web series and indie media in general - is the amount of money that goes into a production. Even myself when going into season one and expanding into season two, I think there was still a part of me that was naive to the great costs that these kinds of productions entail. High’rd Help was honored to be part of TO Webfest, and during our time there we were able to learn about some of the budgets for web series, short films, online shorts, etc. Sometimes it’s a bit mind-blowing to see a production’s budget was $50,000 and hear that it was considered low budget. I wish there was a bit more transparency with these kinds of things between the creators and audiences, because then there is a bit more understanding when viewers find out things like seasons not being extended, pilots not getting off the ground, characters having to be cut from production due to budget or schedule conflicts, etc. 

netTVnow: Where do you hope the web series industry will be in the next few years?

OD: I hope that with the rise in popularity and accessibility that webseries has to offer that more funding opportunities become available for this type of medium. Financial constraints is sometimes a hidden struggle for web series creators, and I think with the kind of content that can be created through this avenue it is definitely worth investment. I’m lucky to live in Canada where there are already a variety of grants and loans and financial programs geared towards web series creation, but I always think that there can be more done, especially with such a fast-growing and useful medium like this. 

netTVnow: Do you have any upcoming projects to share?

OD: I am a screenwriter on another webseries called Matchless, that is currently airing on YouTube. It came out in early June and I’m very proud of the story that we wrote, so I would love for High’rd Help fans to check it out and let me know what they think.

Currently, Em and I are working on conceptualizing another web series right now that takes place in a grocery store and is about the group of people who work there. As usual, it’s going to be comedic and definitely have a bunch of queer characters - but that’s all we’ll say for now. I’m also a part of an organization called Our Creative Commons. We are striving to create a company that can provide a platform and infrastructure for diverse voices to tell their own stories. We are currently writing a modern day online TV fairytale miniseries and have another comedic show in the middle of script-writing as well. 

netTVnow: Anything else you'd like to add?

OD: Thank you so much for taking the time to interview us, we appreciate it so much. To all the fans, thank you so much for your continued support from day one. One of the things that keeps the show going are the fans, and I think it would be awesome if everyone engaged with one another more. Some of my favorite parts of enjoying a show is participating in the fandom aspect to create great connects and find amazingly talented people who create content purely driven by their passion for the show. So if you love the show, engage with us! It really helps grow the show but also it’s wonderful to see the fandom grow and connect with one another. And I mean it, seriously - if you have High’rd Help fan art or edits or gifs or 100k word rants on pickles (Team Billy or Team Clooney), we LOVE to see that kind of stuff. And of course: I hope you enjoy season two!

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