Hollywood has always been considered to be the land of dreams for any aspiring actor, director, and writer (or all three). Known in the industry as “above the line”
talent, these individuals get most of the attention and the glory – both at the box office and sometimes on awards night. Yet, there are those who specialize
behind the scenes in various areas of film production (also known as “below the line” talent) who toil in relative anonymity. From stand-ins for actors, to makeup
artists, electricians and stuntmen on down to the lowest ranking production assistants, their accomplishments both on set and off are rarely, if ever recognized or
appreciated by most people. The new comedy web series BELOW THE LINE takes a hilarious look at some of the most awkward and embarrassing moments that
come with being on the low end of the Tinseltown totem pole.
Produced by its co-star Simone Butler and writer Erika Yeomans, the show’s first season of 5 episodes premiered on Sept. 29th. 3 episodes have already been posted on its official web site and Youtube page, with new episodes every 2 weeks (and a minisode in between).
BELOW THE LINE features a talented ensemble cast, each of whom bring viewers the hilarious misadventures of all those who find the climb atop the Hollywood ladder a difficult and awkward one: Butler, who plays bartender and aspiring actress Samantha Lately, plus Kemba Bloodworth as the spunky, stylish and as yet uncredited wardrobe/costume crew member Lily.
The cast also features Teagan Wright as Ben, a gaffer (the primary electrician on a film crew) whose seductive powers turn off every woman he encounters, Joe Firiciano as Ben’s younger brother Will, a production assistant and recent film school grad who seeks to make a name for himself in the industry, and Vava Buitenkant as Victoria, a longtime actress and “professional extra” who always finds herself being passed over for the big parts no matter how often she tries to get them.
Inspired by unbelievable, yet totally true, stories of real life “below the line” personnel (whose names have been changed to protect the innocent, Butler says), BELOW THE LINE portrays some of the weirdest, humiliating and comical moments that often take place in the world of showbiz as seen through the eyes of the overworked, underpaid, and under-appreciated industry folk who witnessed them. For Butler, her own personal experiences of working on actual film sets also played a key role in the development of the series.
“Working on set can be tough as an actress or as crew, especially if you are below-the-line. I had a few stories that I experienced as an actress. At first I thought, ‘woe is me,’ coming home teary eyed or hitting the bar after work to tell a sob story with friends. As I told some stories on and off set, I realized I wasn’t alone. More and more stories started pouring out of people. ‘You wouldn’t believe what happened on set today.’ As much as these stories were heart breaking, bizarre and uncouth, I realized how hysterical they all were in retrospect. I thought these stories wouldn’t be so heartbreaking if we could turn them into something positive, like poking fun of the industry as well as ourselves,” she says. From there, the concept of BELOW THE LINE began to take shape. “I had the wonderful opportunity to share my idea with Erika Yeomans, a dear friend and professional in the industry, and we decided to join forces and create the web series BELOW THE LINE.”
Despite its limited budget, Butler and Yeomans made the most of their resources to create and produce a web series that humorously and distinctively portrays the lives – and horror stories – of those who really power the Hollywood dream factory. “When Erika and I got together, we agreed that we wanted to make this web series as professional as possible with limited funds. We were lucky to get (an) amazing crew to work next to nothing. It’s a different approach to web series as we tried to make each one stand alone, stylistically like a mini movie,” recalls Butler, who adds that while each episode of BELOW THE LINE takes place in different genres like westerns, horror, suspense and comedy, “what strings them together are the recurring characters, the brevity of the scenes and keeping the stories sharp and funny, and everyone loves to dish/gossip (and) obsess on the entertainment business. This is a fun way to satirize an industry we all work in and love. (It’s) a gentle mocking on jobs that have gone awry and that most people can relate to,” Butler says.
BELOW THE LINE also stands out from many web series because of its episodic storytelling structure: “Each episode stands alone – a flashback told in 4-5 minute scenarios. Each episode has either an opener or closer mini-scene featuring our cast of regulars commiserating with the guest stars about their bad below the line experience. As the series grows, we hope to weave in characters’ “backstory” more and (to) have more recurring characters,” she says.
The series also benefited from the hard work and talents of its ensemble cast. “We have an amazing and wonderful cast who believed in the project and identified with the characters. Being in the industry for a long period of time we knew a lot of talent and crew that we wanted to have in the series. We also ventured out to find new actors that have become part of the BTL family,” Butler says. As is typical of any low budget web series, a production crew can often take on multiple tasks, and BELOW THE LINE was no exception. “All the opener and closer bookends in (the) bar were shot all at once, and all the flashback scenes were shot in 1 day. (We had a) skeleton professional crew, hair and makeup, sound mixer, gaffer and DP (director of photography). That’s it. Everyone wears 3-4 hats to pull off the production,” she says.
Butler says that even though BELOW THE LINE takes place in the glitzy, glamorous world of Hollywood, anybody who’s ever had to do a thankless job in any field can relate to the show’s characters and their struggles. “Everyone can relate to a below the line story, whether they’re a teacher, a bartender, a real estate agent, a student, a electrician, a writer. I think this caters to viewers across the board.” While Butler and the rest of her talented cast and crew hope to continue bringing viewers the unbelievably true tales of life on the bottom of the Hollywood ladder, she’s already accomplished what may be the most important goal for the success of BELOW THE LINE: striking a chord with the viewer through what she describes as: “true tales from production hell – taking lemon jobs and making lemonade.”
— Chris Hadley — Snobby Robot