Published on January 3rd, 2016 | by Biz Books
The Biz Interview: Sydney Doberstein, Lily Zarif, and Laura Carly Miller
The Support Group is a Vancouver-produced web series that launches this week and is top-lined by the talents of Sydney Doberstein, Lily Zarif, and Laura Carly Miller of Beyond Theatre Productions. As the lead actresses, writers and producers of the series, this trio of gifted Vancouver performers have overseen this creative project from beginning to end and they’re here to share some of their insights with us.
We caught up with them to find out everything there is to know about The Support Group and why fans of quirky, kooky comedy web series should most definitely check it out.
Why don’t you start by telling us a little bit about you?
Sydney Doberstein: I’m originally from Vancouver Island and grew up on a dairy farm in a small town called Black Creek. While growing up there, I performed in many community musical theatre shows and school performances. My first leading role was at the age of 13 when I starred as “Charlotte” the spider in Charlotte’s Web. Now living in Vancouver, my primary focuses are developing my film and television resume and dabbling in motion capture. When I’m not immersed in the industry, you’ll find me being entertained by my 3 month old schnauzer puppy named Darwin, eating a gluten-free diet (for over 10 years now… I started before it was cool), singing and playing guitar in the comfort of my apartment with my husband, crafting beautiful and hilarious Snapchats of my life and spamming my contact list, and biking all year round (I have a bright purple rain suit).
Lily Zarif: I was born in England, went to university in Canada and am now going back and forth between the two to work in the film industry as much as possible. I’m a reader, which is why I get so excited to write, and love binge-watching Parks and Recreation which is where a lot of my humour inspiration came from.
Laura Carly Miller: I grew up in Maple Ridge and from an early age, I loved the stage. I began dancing when I was five years old. During high school I decided to take drama and that’s where I really realized my passion for acting. At first I was more interested in the theatre, but I had always been interested in film so I applied to Capilano University’s Acting for Stage and Screen program in hopes to try out both mediums. Since university, I have been auditioning for film, television and theatre.
I met Sydney Doberstein and Lily Zarif at Capilano U and we graduated with diplomas in acting. We became friends through school and continued our close friendship after the fact. Our coinciding love for acting led to us deciding to create our own company, Beyond Theatre Productions to continue being creative. Before creating The Support Group, we created sketch comedies and even a theatre piece about racism that we performed for the South Okanagan Immigration Society. The reason we created The Support Group was to continue being creative and gave us an opportunity to make our own work. Also I personally love comedy. So this project has been the ultimate blast being able to not only write, produce, but also star in my own series.
What is The Support Group and how did it come to be?
Sydney Doberstein: The Support Group is a series about three unlikely friends, each facing their own challenges and coming together to save their beloved support group.
Laura Carly Miller, Lily Zarif and I had just finished touring with our production company, Beyond Theatre Productions, and we wanted to create our next project. We got together for a brainstorming brunch and came out with a plot line and potential character ideas for each of us. It was fun because we wanted to create something that we could all star in and we wanted to play characters that would be interesting for each of us.
Lily Zarif: It came to be after we’d been performing sketch comedy for about a year and had just had our first paid gig, a theatre piece we performed in Penticton. We decided it was time to take the next step and take on a whole series. We were chatting about ideas when one of us said “What about a support group, but you never find out what the group is for?” And the idea just grew from there.
What can audiences expect from The Support Group?
Sydney Doberstein: Audiences can expect to laugh, either at how funny it is or how awkward it is – especially if you know one of us. Since it is a comedy, there’s many truthful moments and teamwork in the show that I think audiences will enjoy.
Lily Zarif: Laughter! It’s a comedy, so they can expect some great jokes, and also a few heartwarming moments.
Laura Carly Miller: Laughs, romance, and tons of friendship. It’s a lot of fun and has some real kooky characters.
What are the benefits and challenges that you’ve found so far in developing a web series?
Sydney Doberstein: Benefits – bottom line, nothing really compares to creating your own project. This project has taught us a lot about what type of people, how much work and the amount of hours it takes to create something like a web series. The Support Group has given us a wide range of experience in producing, writing and acting, which most young actors can’t get from the industry. Another major benefit for us was spending all summer doing what we love and living out our dream of running Beyond Theatre Productions. We’ve been able to tap into the indie Vancouver film industry and work with some very talented people, which has helped us grow as actresses and as a production company.
Challenges – there are many challenges when starting your own creative project, let alone an ambitious one like The Support Group. We decided that the only way this was going to get made was doing it on a micro budget and getting ultra thrifty with our options. We were able to bring together a crew of over 30 people to help us, which definitely gave us a leg up in finishing this web series on time. The other major challenge was dealing with locations. The final three locations we were shooting at lost power on our final day, forcing us to rely heavily on our biggest fans – our parents!
Lily Zarif: The benefits of developing this series are so vast. I’ve learned so so much. Learning what it’s like to be on the other side has already helped me as an actor. Acting as a casting director, writer, producer and even sitting in on editing has all been so eye-opening.
The challenges were also vast, but I’m grateful for them, because that’s what helped me learn. Finding equipment and crew were probably two of the biggest challenges as we decided to film during one of the busiest summers in Vancouver.
Laura Carly Miller: The benefits of creating a web series have been outstanding. Not only has it given us as actors a lot of notice but also has been a great opportunity to learn the everything behind the camera. Something every actor should take the time to do. I’ve learned that every single job on set and off is incredibly important. I suggest if an actor gets the chance to sit in on the editing of a project they should do so. You learn a lot about acting and how story telling works.
Some challenges for us throughout this project have been pretty silly and out of our control. One weekend that we were filming in the summer there was a massive power outage across the city. Three out of four of our locations were without power. Luckily, my parents’ house out in Maple Ridge had power and they said all 30+ people could come and film there. It definitely saved us! Throughout this project I’ve learned that there is always something that comes up that’s out of your control but it still will always work out in the end.
Where do you find inspiration for acting and writing?
Sydney Doberstein: I try to find inspiration from everyday life and hope that my work reflects a very real, honest experience. Obviously, some of my work is a stretch from my personal experiences, but mostly I use my experiences to bring a character to life.
Lily Zarif: I find inspiration from people who I feel have walked a similar path to me. When we started writing I’d just finished Mindy Kaling’s book where she discusses her early years, acting in a show she’d co-written. I then was reading One More Thing by BJ Novak while writing. It’s such a fantastic collection of short stories that while I was reading it, all I wanted to do was try to create something half as funny.
Laura Carly Miller: I find inspiration from my friends. They always make me want to be silly and create funny things. Also a lot of comedy shows that I watch. New Girl, Happy Endings, etc.
What are the keys to creating an effective comedy scene?
Sydney Doberstein: Timing. Comedy is all about timing the jokes, pacing them out, editing and making sure the scene flows smoothly.
Lily Zarif: High stakes! In writing, it was whatever made us laugh the hardest. One of us would make a suggestion and we’d keep building it up until we couldn’t stop laughing. And that made it into the script.
Laura Carly Miller: For us it was staying up writing until 4am and beginning to get silly from exhaustion.
What’s the best advice you’ve received in your career?
Sydney Doberstein: Do what scares you the most and let fear be your compass in life. That’s how I know acting is what I want to do. Acting terrifies me and puts me in a very vulnerable position, which I struggle with in my everyday life. It continues to challenge me and test my type A personality.
Lily Zarif: The best advice I’ve received in my career is to stay honest. In the work and in myself. And I think doing that has helped me to keep working and to work harder because it comes from a powerful place.
Laura Carly Miller: The best career advice I have received is to not take this industry personally. So many actors think it’s always their fault they’re not booking or that they weren’t pretty enough etc. But it’s never the case. So much is out of your control and you could have done a fabulous job, but it could honestly come down to something as silly as you look like the love interest’s sister. And unless it’s Game of Thrones that might not be okay.
What books and authors have been influential in your career so far?
I find myself constantly watching documentaries, interviews and biographies, which have been influential in my career. The Hollywood Reporter Actors Roundtable interviews are one of my favourites.
Lily Zarif: The ones I mentioned before, I would say were the most influential for my career. I read a lot of Jacqueline Wilson books when I was young too, which gave me a desire to chase adventure and a larger than life lifestyle.
Laura Carly Miller: Honestly not as many books have impacted me as a writer. I’m much more affected by television and films. I’m a sucker for cheesy teen romance shows. I can guarantee no one has watched The OC, Gossip Girl and the new 90210 as many times as I have. The over the top drama always gets me.
What other projects are you involved with?
Sydney Doberstein: This project has been a full-time job but I do still find time to model for a very special non-profit jewelry line called Global Wonders from Servants Anonymous Foundation. Modeling for a cause has given me some wonderful experiences and I recommend it to any actress. I also continue to audition and work on my own personal professional development.
Lily Zarif: I’ve been working on a few independent projects while recently visiting the UK, but am currently traveling, so I’ll be taking a little break before returning to work in Vancouver in the spring.
Laura Carly Miller: Currently none. I had been doing a lot of indie films and shorts but we’ve put a lot of energy and heart into this project recently. Otherwise, mostly auditioning as an actor whenever I have the chance.
Where can we find out more about you?
Laura Carly Miller:
Our thanks to Sydney Doberstein, Lily Zarif, and Laura Carly Miller for speaking with us!
The Support Group premieres January 6th on the Beyond Theatre Productions YouTube Channel.
The series also features the contributions of Tammy Gillis (Director, Executive Producer, Actor) and Jim Thorburn (Executive Producer, Actor). You can see more of the cast and crew at TheSupportGroupTheSeries.com!
For more information about Beyond Theatre Productions, please visit BeyondTheatreProductions.com.
Photo Credits: Karolina Turek (Sydney Doberstein), Brandon Hart (Lily Zarif and Laura Carly Miller), True Grit Productions (Stills), George Lawson Photography (Poster).
Matt & Ben
Mindy Kaling and Brenda Withers