Hannah Lehmann. (Photo: Chelsea Thistlewaite)
Short-form storytelling is having a moment, and Sydney filmmaker Hannah Lehmann is capitalising on it.
In 2017, she distributed her series The Out There, which she wrote, produced and starred in, using Instagram. Each of the 13 episodes ran for just a minute.
The Out There piqued the interest of US-based media company Adolescent Content, who bought the rights, and backed a second instalment.
Off the back of the second season, Lehmann signed with Gersh Agency and Pathfinder in the US. Snapchat then went on to commission a series she wrote and created, Two Sides.
Released over the weekend, Two Sides follows a teenage couple navigating a modern-day breakup in a split-screen format, showing both characters’ point of view of the breakup simultaneously. There are 10 episodes, each five minutes in length. Lehmann also directed the series, shot in Austin, Texas, starring newcomers Kai Kadlec and Maeve Whale.
Lehmann is pleased with the early reception to the show. “I am so proud. This was such a risky show to produce (it tells two stories simultaneously) so l am glad it is being received well,” she tells IF.
Snapchat first announced Two Sides in April as part of a broader slate of new original scripted and unscripted shows.
The ball got rolling on the project after Lehmann pitched the idea to production company New Form, who specialise in digital content. They loved it, and together they made a short proof-of-concept video that has achieved 6.5 million views on Facebook.
Lehmann then met with Snapchat on a visit to LA last year, with the platform having seen the video and her other work. From there, they agreed to shoot a pilot, and the series was greenlit shortly after.
On digital short-form, Lehmann says: “It’s a whole new way of thinking in terms of how the audience will be digesting the content; the vertical format for example.
“Snap Originals are really the first foray into social media filmmaking, with the company financing its own original content (aside from Facebook Watch). With the impending release of QuiBi it feels like the way we consume content is going to transform very quickly. This was part of the reason l had originally made The Out There for Instagram. That being said, I am definitely looking to move into more traditional distribution platforms and make longer-form television.”
Lehmann praises Snapchat as being open to ideas and for having a lot of faith in Two Sides.
“They are developing a whole slate of very cool projects, and I am honoured to be included amongst them,” she says.
What’s her advice to other young filmmakers looking to pitch to the platform? “The best thing any young filmmaker can do is make their own work that truly has their own ‘essence’; something that aligns with their own beliefs, tastes and intuition. And then market the hell out of the project and pitch it to as many people, contacts and networks as you possibly can. Don’t be afraid to ask for help.”
Lehmann is also among the stars of Imogen McCluskey’s debut Suburban Wildlife, a microbudget feature that was second runner up in the audience awards at the Sydney Film Festival – a result Lehmann says is testament to the fact that audiences want to see new and interesting films from young filmmakers, regardless of budget.
The film follows a group of four young friends who find themselves at a crossroads when their dreams and ambitions start to collide in unexpected ways; Lehmann plays Louise, the mother figure of the group.
“Louise is about to leave for a new life in London and feels very smothered by her friends – all she wants is to break free of this role she has been delegated by her own personality, and when she starts to push back, the magic that this friendship once held disintegrates a little
“Of course, all the other characters are going through their own struggles, but Louise is fascinating because she knows that these relationships will crumble with her departure, but seems to be the only one in the circle aware of that. It’s a heavy burden for her. With any character I play, it’s always about looking internally and finding what it is that I have in common with the character.”
Lehmann says McCluskey was a dream director to work to work with. “Imogen is so, so talented and I feel like we have very similar approach to filmmaking. It’s a guttural thing. Everything she did was driven by emotion and feeling, and l think it shows in the film. It’s so lovely working with a female director too – she’s so energetic and passionate and it made everything so much easier.”
An acting career is something Lehmann is keen to continue to pursue in tandem with driving her own projects.
“I’m most passionate about just telling the best story possible – whether I am in it or not. There are certain characters I write that l think are perfect for myself to play, but others that I know will be best served by another actor. And acting in other peoples work is a joy too. I want to be a powerhouse essentially, doing everything I can to make the most meaningful work. We’re in an exciting time now where actors are becoming show-runners are becoming directors are becoming producers. Everything seems possible.”
As for what’s next, Lehmann is working on another project in the US which is in early development, though she would also love to make projects out of Australia. “I’m hoping to be based out of LA soon, but its a process. In the meantime l am writing and pitching.”
Two Sides trailer:
Watch the full series here.