A slick sci-fi comedy on Amazon’s Prime Video may seem a long way from a homegrown web series featuring a couple of Aussie trash bags, but director Kacie Anning has made that leap with flying colours. She directed two episodes of Upload, a futuristic sitcom satire that is the brainchild of The Office’s Greg Daniels.
In fact, the journey was less of a leap and more of a skilful climb. Anning is a directing graduate from the Australian Film Television and Radio School, awarded the Foxtel Scholarship for Exceptional New Talent in 2011.
Instead of waiting for opportunities, Anning created her own by writing, directing and starring in the web series Fragments of Friday, picking up awards at international festivals, described as an ‘unashamedly bold superstar female talent’ by the Huffington Post.
Since then she collaborated with the Sydney Opera House on a satirical web series with Gretel Killeen, and in 2017 directed all six episodes of Matt Okine’s comedy series The Other Guy and wrote three episodes of the second series. Her other television directing credits include the sketch comedy series Wham Bam Thank-You Ma’am and the kids series You’re Skitting Me and Hardball.
Productive, professional and with a strong original voice, Anning spoke to us about her experience with Daniels and Upload and her ambition to tackle all genres as well as her mothership, comedy.
What was the first short you ever made? Did you have a sense from the start of the style and genre you wanted to work in?
I made a stack of shorts at uni and also at AFTRS in my post-grad year as a director – none of them overly comedic, upon reflection. When I graduated from film school, I made Fragments of Friday which was where my voice as a comedic writer and director really emerged. Since then, comedy has been the focus, but I love drama too and think the best comedies combine both.
What kind of director are you with crew and actors, especially having acted yourself?
I’d say I’m predominantly a performance driven director and working with actors is my favourite part of the shooting process; I can often offer direction from quite a performative place (though I’m sure my actors would rather I didn’t). I wouldn’t really describe myself as an actor, but I suppose I am that director at the monitor unconsciously mimicking all the expressions of the actor on camera while the script supervisor squirms with awkwardness beside me. Prior to Upload I would not have described myself as a particularly visual or technically-minded director but with Upload taking place in a futuristic world, I had a baptism of fire on the VFX front. The show presented an amazing opportunity to use the camera in ways I hadn’t before and have some fun with technocranes, dollies and the like. But all of the camera ‘toys’ need to service the scene and my first priority is always making sure we’re getting the human elements right so that the comedy (or drama) can shine through.
What appealed to you most about Upload when you first signed on to the project?
Obviously Greg Daniels is a titan of the industry and someone whose comedies (The Office, Parks & Recreation) have had a massive influence on my own work so the opportunity to work with Greg was a massive drawcard. Beyond that, I saw the show as an off-the-wall, futuristic romantic comedy and I was excited by the rich world it took place in, and just how this absurd version of the future was going to be realised.
How was the experience of moving to a big budget production and what kind of preparation did you do?
It was obviously intimidating, but I quickly found the challenges of directing are all the same just on a different scale. For me, having come from lower budget television in Australia where you’re shooting very quickly, I’d already had years of a kind of ‘bootcamp’ honing my skills in high pressure environments here. By the time I stepped up to Upload the pressure actually felt less pointed because you have more time, money and resources to do your job; it was very liberating creatively. One day we were shooting on a massive green screen that was about 60 metres long and Greg turned to me and said, ‘Bit different to Fragments of Friday, eh?’. That was a bit of a ‘pinch me’ moment.
What did you get from working with Greg Daniels?
The myth goes that Greg has been cooking up this show since the ‘80s, so it was amazing to watch this person, who’s been carrying this world around in their head for decades, finally get to execute it and transpose all those weird, wonderful, totally offbeat ideas into a high concept comedic arena. Obviously, the scripts were very exciting but as a director I’m always trying to find little bits of comedy that aren’t on the page in either the staging or the relationship dynamics of the characters and then Greg would pop by and observe the blocking and be surprised at those little discoveries. Making Greg Daniels giggle has been one of the highlights of my career.
What was the biggest take away/ learning curve from directing Upload?
Overall, the scale of production and the collaboration with an incredibly experienced crew gave me enough space to really focus on my job as the director – to ask what does the scene require and if it was some big camera move, then that was possible or if it was a complicated VFX scene, then the peace of mind to know I had the time to get it right, with the support of the VFX team working towards my vision. The funnest part was learning I had a whole trailer to myself (which I never had time to sit in). The scariest part was flying to Vancouver where we shot, reading the scripts thinking ‘What have I gotten myself into?’
What’s next in your career?
Lots of writing. I’ve got a few of my own shows in development here in Australia and the US and the goal over the next few years is to move towards working as a creator and getting my own comedies up. But I love episodic directing for other showrunners and am eager to keep building up my experience as a director in all genres too.
Upload is streaming now on Prime Video.