The breakout web-series SYD2030 follows a group of law students through the drama of Law School at the University of Eastern Sydney. Life at UES, which is set in the grounds of Sydney University and the University of New South Wales, means the stress of clerkships, lots of law-firm sponsored drinking, and a very incestuous friendship group.
So pretty much like Sydney Law School, then.
Honi Soit caught up with the stars of the show at Sydney University’s very own hub of law-school pretentiousness, Taste, to chat about the show’s recent success, what’s coming next, and how they made a 12-part web-series on a shoestring budget.
The power and privilege of the Eastern suburbs is a common theme of SYD2030. 2030 is, of course the postcode of Vaucluse; where writer/director/star Tatjana Alexis grew up.
She plays Bridget Knox, the successful law student with the lawyer father and knockout looks.
She’s joined with an equally genetically-blessed cast of ‘work hard, party harder’ law students.
Joining Alexis for Honi’s interview was Laura Benson – playing the abrasive Law Society president Lara Luhrmann, George Harrison – the sweet, likeable, and somewhat sleazy pants-man Leo Cassevetes, and Nick Wright – the self-confessed “creepy, douchebag teacher,” Professor Harrison. “They’re stereotypical characters thrown into extraordinary situations,” Alexis said. “I think we all know someone who shares personality traits with the characters,” she said, although she did deny they were based on real people.
There’s the abrasive, career-obsessed Lara and her handsome, entitled, overachieving boyfriend Cam (played by Abe Mitchell). Bridget, Cam’s ex, comes back to the country and now wants him back. Leo still loves Bridget, but he is squarely in the sights of Frankie (Sophie Luck) – a sweet, peppy blonde who is stuck in the middle. The young actors don’t bear much resemblance to their on-screen personalities – either in privilege or personality. While Alexis does indeed do law, and hails from the champagne and caviar set in Vaucluse, she keeps the elitism to the screen. The bubbly Laura Benson (who studied Theatre and Film at UNSW) bears little resemblance to her driven, narcissistic character. The boyish charm of George Harrison and Nick Wright is worlds away from their on-screen sleaze.
Harrison had a steep learning curve to conquer; as he admits, the Greek communities of Earlwood that he calls home are not too similar to the world of SYD2030. But, he does study at Sydney University (albeit, Commerce), so he would have seen his fair share of entitled law students. None of the cast were paid for the series, which received little-to-no external funding. “We were doing it all off our own backs, with no budget,” Alexis said. But people did pitch in to help, sans payment.
“I think it’s surprising that so many people, once approached, were really keen to get on board, and at least have a venue for us to film in,” the writer-director said. No-one got paid, but for “love and food,” she said. “Parents made us lunch and dinner every time, it was really cute.” The humble birthplace of this web-series might be a world away from the high-flying world of Eastern Sydney Law, but it worked for the group, which is about to begin the festival circuit, touring the finished product.
“Just last week we went to IndieGems, in Sydney,” said Alexis. “Oh, and we actually won!” she added, as an afterthought. “It was a kind of Young Achievers award,” she explained. “We won $3500 in editing equipment!” It was a moment of realisation for Laura Benson that “people other than just our friends” were watching the series.
The format was chosen for a number of reasons: “I think web-series is the new short film,” Alexis said, sipping a soy cappuccino. “It’s the best way to show what a show can really do. It’s a lot easier to show your work around, to hope to get up, or even just to develop a story.” “Because it’s so small and quick, you do need to watch it,” pitched in Harrison, over his schooner of Pure Blonde (it was just past midday, after all). “You say, ‘oh, it’s only another nine minutes,’ and then all of a sudden you’re interested in the characters.”
Audiences of SYD2030 are wider than you may expect from a home-grown, location-based web-series. Harrison, pulling up in-depth Google Analytics from the SYD2030 website on his iPhone, says that a lot of their audience is from overseas. “We’ve had almost 8500 views from Australia, and the next biggest market is the US, with almost 500. Over 200 views have been from the UK, and we’ve had 177 from New Zealand… so that’s not too bad,” he said with a touch of excitement. And they’ve had people from the industry appraise them for the work, telling them how they’re being watched as an example of how the web-series format could grow in the future. But they’re not quite household names just yet.
Alexis (Bridget) was recognised, once. At a university party. “Someone stopped me in the bathroom and asked for a photo,” she said sheepishly. And Harrison (Leo), was recognised at World Bar. “It was someone from Mosman,” he said. “I’ve never been there, but I guess they liked the show.” Alexis said she cast her net outside of her friendship circles when looking for her co-stars.
“We tried to cast outside actors for the love-interests… a lot of our friends are actors, but if we had to do [kissing scenes] with them, that’d be weird.” But it didn’t necessarily work. Harrison, the subject of many steamy scenes with Alexis, the writer-director, plays football with his on-screen lover’s boyfriend. It just goes to show, the incestuous nature of SYD2030’s University of Eastern Sydney characters isn’t limited to the screen.
But life doesn’t completely imitate art. Answering the obligatory interview question of whether on-screen romances ever bled into the real world, the cast of SYD2030 all gave an emphatic ‘no’.