The internet is a wonderful thing. In addition to the fact that we can retrieve useful information on virtually anything in virtually no time flat, we can also discover new music, network with old friends, look at pictures of naked people, promote our personal causes, publish local culture magazines, and watch strangers do the Harlem Shake.
Oh, and some people can also make their very own television shows.
Locally, an intrepid band of actors, writers, and filmmakers have done just that; the result is Up The Creek, an offbeat comedy series that its creators call a “sipcom,” not just because it focuses on the behind-the-scenes antics of a winery, but because each brief episode is just the right length for enjoying while sampling a glass of your favorite beverage.
One of the intrepid band that makes this show happen is Mike Trippiedi, a local writer, actor, and filmmaker (and original member of the Celebration Company at the Station Theatre). I spoke to him about the series, and he was generous enough to provide some background.
“The entire cast is made up of filmmakers,” Trippiedi said, “so on every episode we all jump in and wear many hats.”
According to Trippiedi, the goal of the web series is “to erase the snobbish image that the California wine country has created. Joe [Taylor, the series creator] believes that beer gets all the credit for being the ‘fun’ drink, and he's out to change that. Up The Creek has no pretensions of being great art. Instead, we try to look at the silly side of an industry that so many people take way too seriously.”
Another goal of the series is to promote its setting, the actual Sleepy Creek Winery, which Trippiedi describes as “a local treasure for entertainment and fun. Not only do music acts perform there regularly, but the winery also hosts some pretty good live theatre. Recent productions include Talley's Folly, Stones in His Pockets, and the interactive comedy Adventures in Mating.”
This interesting mix of business, craft, and entertainment is fitting. A winery that hosts plays (and the Freaky Creek Short Film Festival every October) as the backdrop for a show about people struggling to keep a fictionalized version of the same winery afloat? It’s a marvelous idea. And anyone who has seen any of the nine episodes currently available on blip.tv can certainly attest to the offbeat nature of the show, with its eccentric characters and intentionally cloying laugh-track. More often than not, Up The Creek has the feel of a British sitcom, which may explain why it’s so popular.
When I spoke with Joe Taylor, he was able to tell me just how popular.
Smile Politely: So, let’s talk about Up The Creek…
Joe Taylor: Mathew, your timing is good. We just got news that the web series went over two million total views today. This is according to blip.tv, the site where it is hosted. They have been promoting the show lately, and it has made the views go through the roof.
SP: Two million is a lot. Congratulations. You own and operate Sleepy Creek Winery, which is also the setting of the web series. What prompted you to start the series, and how did you go about assembling your cast?
Taylor: The idea for the series came from when Bill Kephart (who plays Rusty) and myself were actually working in the winery. He was helping us during our harvest season, and we would kick around ideas for videos between press runs. Bill and I had worked together on humor-based videos for various online contests. We had some success with these video contests and sold spots for Snickers candy bars, La Quinta Hotels, and the cleaning product Simple Green.
We had wanted to do something episodic where we would have a cast of characters. The winery was a logical setting since many sitcoms are based around a business setting. We wanted it to be a little old-school and goofy, like a Gilligan's Island for adults … and with drinking.
A winery was also the perfect setting since it is a type of business that looks romantic and successful … from the outside. We thought that was a good contrast to the reality of this business. The series is about a financially struggling winery and its dysfunctional staff. Our first episode sets things up: The matriarch decides to retire and turns the winery operations over to her son, who recently returned from a failed Wall Street career. The only condition is that he can’t fire any of the staff.
SP: How are the episodes developed, from writing to filming? How long does each episode take to finish?
Taylor: The process is really fun for me. All of the cast members contribute to the stories, and then a few of us will sit together and get the final script locked down. Each episode usually takes two to three evenings to shoot and then about a week to edit and get things posted online. I tend to play director and editor. Probably our biggest challenge is getting the full cast together at any one time. Everyone involved in the series is very active in the local theater and filmmaking scene, so we have to work around those schedules.
SP: I noticed that the series features a laugh track (an interesting choice) and has a similar feel to some British sitcoms I've seen. Was this a conscious choice?
Taylor: The laugh track was a conscious choice: to give it a classic sitcom feel. That is one thing we still debate, actually. Some of the cast like it; some don't. We have discussed dropping it, but I'm afraid to because it seems we are getting some interest in the UK and I think it might work there.
SP: What plans do you have for the series in the near future (and beyond)?
Taylor: We are just starting to work on our second season. We'll be meeting soon to decide on some scripts. I think our first episode this year will be a song and dance number that Mike Trippiedi wrote about why we drink more beer than wine at the winery.
I feel really fortunate to be able to work with such a talented group. I think we will keep doing it as long as it is fun. The reality of schedules and the fact that we all have to make a living will probably limit us to five to seven episodes a year. I want to focus on production quality a bit more this year. The actors do such a great job, and I need to make sure I hold up my end of the bargain. I do think the recent success online has given us a motivational boost.
SP: I would imagine!
Taylor: I still can't believe we've had over two million views. I even emailed blip to make sure it wasn't an error, and they said that it was for real and that they loved the show.
If you haven't seen this unique, little show yet, you can view the trailer here. The cast of Up The Creek is as follows:
- Bill Kephart as Rusty, the matriarch’s stepson, who works at the winery
- Mike Boedicker as Grant, the son who comes back home to run things
- Thomas Nicol as RP, the shirtless groundskeeper
- Mike Trippiedi as Major Tom, the vineyard manager
- Julia Megan Sullivan as Veroniqua, the Canadian marketing specialist
- Kayla Johnson as Vayla, who works in the tasting room
- Tim Meyers as Branson, who also works in the tasting room
- Matt Hester as Antonio, the "not from around here" winemaker
In addition, some impressive local actors — including Gary Ambler and Peter Davis — have made guest appearances.
If you have six to nine minutes (and come on, you know you do), use them to check out some talented local people promoting a local venue to the entire world. That’s another thing the internet is good for, by the way.