2018 ATX Festival
High Maintenance Is the Most Not-TV TV Show
By Ashley Morton
The show’s creative forces were at ATX Festival to talk about maintaining High Maintenance’s home-made feel.
Even though they now have two seasons of High Maintenance under their belt at HBO, the series’ creators Ben Sinclair, Katja Blichfeld and producer Russell Gregory still felt it was “a little surreal” to sit down as guests at the 2018 ATX Festival in Austin, Texas. The three spoke with actor (and super fan) Miriam Shor (The Americans, Younger) about what’s changed since High Maintenance’s origins as a web series 2011. Here are some of the highlights.
They never intended to make a TV show.
“We didn’t have those aspirations,” Blichfeld shared. “We were looking to make something fun with our free time, and give Ben tape of something he’d want to be cast as.”
Sinclair added, “We wanted to make a show where we’re seeing stuff we don’t see on TV. Which meant naturalistic acting, plausible experiences and brevity. We were very attracted to the idea that any episode could be any length online. We felt like we were entering a new age of storytelling.”
Trying to be small is a big part of it.
“I was afraid of the HBO version,” confessed Sinclair, “So we had to figure out how to bring our homemade vibe to it. …. We still shot in our apartments in the first and second seasons. We’re still a low-budget show, and what’s fun is we can fit in small places, and a lot of times we don’t have to dress it. Trying to be small and nimble [is part of it].”
The script is just the invitation.
Sinclair made it clear a lot of the show comes from allowing for spontaneity and changes as they go. “The script isn’t the finished thing,” he noted. “That’s just what you send out so people will show up. The finished thing is compiled of sound and music, adjusted dialogue and, ‘This is a really good accident we caught.’ It’s a whole process.”
If you have it, use it.
Oftentimes the show finds itself pulling from what is already in the apartments the location scout finds. “We move so fast, if those details are already showing up to the set, we might as well use them,” Sinclair elaborated. “Or the character will be written, and we’ll meet the actor and say, ‘What are you good at? Let’s do that.’”
The Season 2 finale was a happy accident.
Season 2’s Episode 9, “was about exhaustion,” Sinclair explained, and they all needed a break before figuring out the end. “We all went away, and the eclipse happened, and what a remarkable day,” he remembered. “If we had just charged through it would have been something else.”
But the last shot was still a bit of a debate.
The finale begins with what seems like a ride into the sunset, until it doesn’t. “We had a version of that ending — and we debated about it for weeks — before [his R.V.] breaks down,” shared Sinclair. “It’s nice to feel good for him and think he has potential, but that’s not our show. That’s something else. Our show is unceremonious in its way, it’s banal.”
He continued, “It would be ridiculous if it all worked out on the first try. Especially life in New York, it’s a pain in the a**.”
Easy in, easy out.
The three panelists acknowledged that today’s TV viewer has an overwhelming number of options. So, they love that their show has a “lower barrier to entry.” Sinclair said that because of the anthology feeling of the show, audiences can jump in anywhere: “You don’t have to watch the episodes in order.”
Gregory added it was about creating “short, snackable” content: “Get in and get out. You can’t keep people’s attention online for very long.”
Your tribe will find you.
“Russell had to Google some things while reading the first scripts, and he loved that,” Blichfeld offered. “Don’t be afraid of specificity and being niche. Your tribe will find you.”
Sinclair noted, “This boring thing that drives you crazy, you’re not alone. It’s a small drama for human beings: The small moments are sometimes the most impactful in our lives.”
Find the web series episodes and Seasons 1 and 2 of High Maintenance on HBO.