Olivia Aylmer: Hi, Hannah! Where are you right now?
Hannah Lehmann: Hi! I'm in my apartment in Redfern, which is an inner city suburb of Sydney. My apartment also acts as the set for the show! It’s a nice autumn evening.
OA: I'm so excited to hear about how The Out There came together—it was one of the most refreshing show-consuming and storytelling experiences I've encountered all year (due in large part to the fact that I watched it stealthily on my phone during a crowded commute). What led you to land on Instagram as your platform of choice to launch the series? Did you always envision it launching in this way?
HL: Thank you! I love that you watched the show on your commute and really that sums up part of the reason I chose to create the series for Instagram. I wanted people to be able to access the show and my work with ease, and [I knew that] being able to direct people to it via a platform they were already engaging with on a daily basis would allow this. Instagram acts as a great launch pad for discovery and content curation, and the ability to tag other accounts and friends enticed me. The Out There is easy to share and will ‘live’ on the app forever, waiting to be discovered, forever. I did always envision that the series would launch on Instagram from the get-go. Distributing content like this on the platform is relatively unheard of, and I knew it would also be a great exploration in terms of producing a video series for such a traditionally image-based application.
OA: What was your relationship to social media like, as both a creator and consumer, prior to launching the series? How has it changed since?
HL: My personal Instagram account isn't particularly curated, and my relationship with it has remained the same before, during, and since the release of The Out There. The series account, however, has an extremely tight design aesthetic that was created to complement the video component and help drive the series. As each episode is one minute, the images used on the account act as clues and references that allow the viewer to have a deeper understanding of the characters and to help emphasize certain plot points.
As a consumer of social media, I would say I am pretty active and definitely more so since the release. I follow a lot of Instagram accounts that inspire me and my work.
OA: How did this love story (of sorts) between a girl and a ghost come together? Was it kicking around in your brain for a while before you settled on the medium through which to tell it?
HL: I am an actor, as well, and I think creating your own work as an actor is crucial. The series started with me trying to write some scenes to shoot with friends, for fun! l'd often imagine a small fragment of a scene—maybe a particular line or the way I thought something could be framed—and I really developed the story from there. I literally look at my surroundings and place what I'm seeing in a scene, and the story develops.
I tried to think of what kind of character I could see myself playing, what kind of things this character might do or say. I'm a sucker for anything with a weird or supernatural vibe, so tying this in with the story of a twenty something was interesting for me. This particular story always existed as a ‘microseries.’ That being said, I hope to develop the story further so that it may become a longer piece.
OA: It's refreshing to see new work being created and shared on social media, as you've done with The Out There, as opposed to merely using it to regurgitate/regram/retweet other people’s work. How did the idea that you’d be contributing something genuinely new and never before seen factor into your writing/filming process?
HL: It excited me that this series would exist as one of the first of its kind! I remember checking Instagram almost every day to see if anyone else had thought of the idea and released their own linear series, because generally I've learned that if you come up with a good idea, chances are someone else has thought of it, too.
It was tricky writing for the platform. Instagram has a one-minute limit for video, so making sure each minute episode had a beginning, middle, and end, and a cliffhanger of sorts, was a real challenge. As we were shooting, we were literally having to drop lines and dialogue when we realized that it just wasn't going to work within the timeframe. It was important that the actors didn't feel rushed, and that there was ‘breathing room’ for each episode. I didn't want the viewer to end up [feeling] confused by what they'd just watched either, so everything had to be taken into account.
OA: What was one challenge you encountered throughout the process?
HL: Cutting so much amazing footage was really hard! In the edit suite, we had to make the decision on the fly to drop some really amazing shots as they ate into the time so much. My team worked amazingly hard to make sure that the story flowed with ease, and l think stepping back in post and allowing the editor to make the choices was beneficial. I was so consumed by the story, and having her (the editor’s) fresh eyes across it allowed for better choices to be made.
OA: Did you ever feel restrained, from a storytelling perspective, as far as how you had to edit the series—or did it just make you and your team take a more creative approach?
HL: I never felt restrained from a storytelling process, because I went into it knowing what little time I had. In a way it was freeing, because it allowed me to get to the heart of the story quickly and without distraction.
OA: We live in such a binge-centric culture, especially when it comes to TV consumption. Did that play into your thinking as far as launching a show that could essentially be consumed in its entirety in 20 minutes?
HL: Yes! We were going to release the series over three days, but after watching it all at once, I knew it could only be released in its entirety. I wanted people to binge it in one sitting and be excited that they'd devoured an entire story in the time it usually take for a traditional TV series to introduce its lead characters. It excited me.
OA: Why do you think this sort of linear, made-for-Instagram series concept has not entirely taken off yet (in Australia and beyond)?
HL: Thats a great question and one I'm not sure I can fully answer. I think maybe it’s because traditional storytelling exists as longer form content, and writers/creators are taught to develop their stories for this [format]. Social media as a whole is still also a relatively new concept, and its purpose is not to house traditional media and narrative. A huge challenge is convincing people that content like The Out There can be successful on social platforms. People don't know it exists! However, I have found that once they do discover it, people have a genuine interest in things that challenge their ideas. The response to The Out There has been overwhelmingly positive, which shows that there is a place for this kind of content and that audiences do want to see it.
OA: The series ends on a cliffhanger. Please tell me you have a second season in store...
HL: There absolutely is! Season One introduced the characters and began to develop their relationships with one another, but Season Two will jump into the story and expose some really interesting plot [points] and ideas. I'm very excited for the direction it’s taking—definitely a lot darker and spookier.
OA: What advice would you offer to other young directors/producers seeking to share work outside of more traditional means, as you've done with this series?
HL: Any idea that you have is valid. If you think that you want to make something, and you really believe that the story must exist, make it, even just for yourself. Creating this series has been the most fulfilling thing I have ever done, and I’m lucky that the idea to distribute it on Instagram has garnered interest from my peers and the public. ★
Watch The Out There in its entirety on the official series Instagram account, @theoutthere.