When Joelene Crnogorac had the idea for All the Way to the Top in 2007, she didn’t wait for someone else to make it happen. The writer-producer kept working at it, taking it from the stage to a short film, to a television pilot, to now a web series. Her story is one of not only creativity, but perseverance and an ability to adapt a great idea into multiple formats, going wherever it took her.
With All the Way to the Top now available on YouTube, Joelene stopped by to talk about her journey with the project, working with the incredible group of actresses who brought her quirky characters to life, and everything else you need to know about this hilarious and fresh series. Get to know her and the show in our interview below, then watch all six episodes on YouTube.
Brittany Frederick: All the Way to the Top has gone through a few iterations. How did you get the original idea and originally get it onto the stage?
Joelene Crnogorac: I wrote the first draft back in 2007, so a good few years ago now. I was right in the middle of being at my hungriest in my acting career, and just getting tired of the of the lack of work and of the situation. I wanted to create something and have some control over something myself. And then a friend of mine mentioned the arts festival called Short and Sweet, and that it was a short play festival of one act plays looking for submissions for its Melbourne festival.
I thought okay, I’m going to submit a piece and see if we can get something on during the festival. You could either submit in two different ways: you could submit your piece as a writer and hand over controls, or you submit as an independent theater company so that you could have control in casting it, in directing it. I went that route; I didn’t just want to hand it over, I wanted to work with my friends. I wanted to create a piece that we could all have fun doing, and tell a fun little story.
I submitted it as an independent theater company, I got a theater producer on board, another colleague of mine who I worked with, and then it got selected. And that was the first incarnation of All the Way to the Top. It was the end of 2007, and it had its stage debut at the Victorian Art Center as part of the Short and Sweet one-act play festival.
BF: What was it like to continue working with and adapting the material over the years? Most writers don’t have the time or opportunity to live with one project the way you did with this.
JC: Honestly, All the Way to the Top has been such a joyous project over the years. It’s always attracted a great bunch of women and we’ve always had a really good time telling the story. From short play, to short film, to pilot script and now to web series, there really is no other word to describe it; it’s just been a joy.
When I wrote the initial draft of the pilot, I was still in Australia. The Australian industry is really tiny and I shopped the script around, but I just couldn’t get any interest in it. And so I thought okay, I’ll shelve this for a little while, and then we moved and relocated over here to Los Angeles. The opportunity arose to put it on over here at the Stella Adler Theatre, for the inaugural Hollywood Short and Sweet festival, so I assembled the U.S. cast.
Shelly Lukes was on board; we were already friends and had known each other for a few years. I met Kelly [Frye] and Maddie [McCormick] through the audition process, and they both blew me away instantly. And then we put it on over here. First at the Stella Adler theatre, and then at The Pico. And again, it was just such a fun process…We had such a wonderful time doing it. And we had our audience laughing every night. We all became firm friends very quickly, that I didn’t want to leave it at that. We all had such love for the material and for the characters.
BF: How did that lead you down the road to making it the web series that viewers are watching now?
JC: I reinvestigated doing the pilot. I looked at it with fresh eyes, got some input from a few writer friends over here, and got it in really good shape. Then we had a live public reading of the pilot at Art Share LA, as part of Scriptd’s monthly pilot reading series. And again from there it was like, where to from here? What can we do to make it? How can we make it?
I was talking to Kelly about it, and she and I both have friends who’ve gone the web series route who have had great success. And Kelly was like, why don’t you turn it into a web series. Just cherry-pick those moments and create short, bite sized episodes and take it from there. That way it could also serve as a proof of concept, and we’d get it out there in that fashion, rather than waiting for someone to go okay, that pilot looks really good on paper. So that’s what we did.
In today’s current climate, the brand of comedy that we’re telling, and that it’s a female driven story, I just feel like it’s more likely to be seen now and received now than perhaps in the past.
BF: Do you have a favorite All the Way to the Top episode or moment that you particularly want to get out to audiences?
JC: That’s like asking me to choose which one is my favorite child. (laughs) I don’t have a favorite episode as such. Episode 6, the last one, just from a sheer production value point of view, has a special place in my heart. We ran a very successful crowdfunding campaign, which honestly, it was our first time running a crowdfunding campaign, and we just were blown away. We couldn’t believe we reached our goal in the first week. And we even ended up exceeding our goal. So our final budget was $15,000, and we shot it in four days, and on top of that there was a good amount of beg, borrowing and stealing too. And so the last episode, I just think it looks fantastic, just from a sheer production value point of view.
I’m so proud of what we made for the money that we had, and the resources that we had, and the finished product I think is most represented in its look and feel in that last episode. That was one big empty warehouse space, and it was completely transformed. For our resources and for the money that we had, it looks a million bucks, and I’m really proud of that.
In terms of comedic value, I think they all offer something comedically. But the first episode also holds a special place in my heart, as it’s the script where it all began. Episode 1 is a modified version of our one-act play. It’s a really good showcase of who the characters are. You instantly get a really clear picture of that and also of the brand of humor of the show. And it’s also just actors doing silly things in auditions, which I think has a certain appeal to people not in the business in terms of peeking behind that curtain, which is not all that glamorous in the end.
BF: Comedies poke fun at the film and TV industry all the time, but All the Way to the Top is unique because all of you have been through the acting experience. What was it like for you just personally to make this project? Did it feel familiar?
JC: It was really funny, actually. The making of that first episode, all the girls at some point during filming were like, oh God, I feel like I’m in an actual audition. Because there they were standing in front of 15 pairs of eyes just staring back at them, being asked to tap dance like a monkey. Definitely a case of art imitating life.
And overall, I think we all really enjoyed telling the story of the absurd things that we do and get up to as we try to survive this crazy business. And it was just nice to be in control of the narrative. As actors, we so often forfeit control, and it was just really nice to be driving these narratives that were all very familiar with.
It all stems from personal experience. I started very young in the industry in Australia. I was 13 years old when I made my first TV show, and a lot of people know me back home from that first TV show, which is Round the Twist. Being a child actor is a very unique experience. I have been in the industry for such a long time and have had a front row seat at the circus, so to speak, so this story comes from a very authentic place with a good chunk of comedy thrown in for good measure.
And this has been a labor of love. It’s been a considered, mindful project that has had many incarnations. This is not just a couple of girls that have gone and made something on a whim. It has been tried and tested. It has evolved. I’ve been working on this project since 2007. The LA team, we’ve been working on this project since 2016, when we first all got together to put it on as a play.
We certainly don’t feel like we’re done yet. We definitely want to do more with these characters. We would love to make more episodes.