Instagram just officially announced its IGTV app for longform video yesterday, but Australian-based filmmaker Hannah Lehmann was ahead of the curve. She’s already launched Season 2 of The Out There, a series created exclusively for the visuals-heavy platform. A mystery that takes place between here and purgatory and featuring an amnesiac ghost and millennial soul-searcher, the surprisingly addictive series takes advantage of all of Instagram’s storytelling tools including stills, image stacks, graphics, and one-minute videos.

"It needed to stand out and look like it could belong on Netflix!"

You may think that creating an Instagram series means casually throwing something together with your iPhone, but that was not the case for The Out There. Yes, the crew was tight (Lehmann is the show’s writer, showrunner, producer, and editor), but they didn’t cut corners in terms of prep or production. The show’s conceptualization is thorough and its craftsmanship is top-notch. 

As series director Mohini Herse shared, “Short screen time meant that every second we showed had to push the story forward. As a result, nearly every episode of season 2 was storyboarded with a companion tonal breakdown.” The show even features an original score by composer Isha Simpson, heightening its otherworldly tone. No Film School caught up with Hannah Lehmann as Season 2 was launching to find out how the series came together. 

No Film School: What does it mean to create an Instagram series? How does the storytelling actually play out?

Hannah Lehmann: I approached creating a series for Instagram as l would do with any other project—making sure that the quality of the work was to a high standard, which would ensure a premium experience. I didn't want The Out There to get lost in the huge amount of video content already on the app; it needed to stand out and look like it could belong on Netflix!

The difference here is that l only had a very small amount of time to tell the story l wanted to. [At the time of production] Instagram only allowed for one-minute video uploads on their main app, so constructing the storytelling in a way that was engaging, made sense and was interesting was the main task. I approached the storytelling in the way l would if writing a longer form series—the character arcs developing ad shifting as the episodes continue—but as the time frame is so restricted, a certain amount of viewer perception is assumed. The storylines l've chosen in the episodes are the most important 'moments in time' for these characters in getting their wants and needs across. 

NFS: Why did you decide that Instagram was the right platform for your story?

Lehmann: There were a couple of reasons. The number of web series produced and uploaded online is huge, and l wanted there to be a point of difference for my show. An Instagram series was not something that had ever really been attempted, especially by a young female creator. I also wanted my work to be accessible and discoverable. The neat thing about having the show on Instagram is that people can tag their friends, revisit the page and rewatch it anywhere. It's a small, fun series that can easily be viewed in its entirety in 30 minutes. Also: the challenge! 

"There are a few episodes which feature no dialogue at all—and these offer a more insightful look into their headspace."

NFS: What was the development process like?

Lehmann: Development was like any other project l've created. During the writing process, l found it quite freeing knowing l only had an extremely limited amount of time to form each episode. I was forced to really strip back all of the dialogue and land only on the 'selected reality' (or moment in time) that would drive the story and characters forward in a way that an audience would still be able to understand.

Obviously, with such a short time frame, there are always going to be details or plot points that simply cannot be investigated as thoroughly as l would have liked, so these standout moments are very considered. There is a lot more going on in these characters' worlds than is shown on screen. The first season was produced entirely by myself, and was eventually picked up by Adolescent Content in the US who then commissioned a second season. They are a media company that, in their words, "represent and develop prodigious Gen Z and millennial directors working in youth advertising, entertainment, and marketing."

On the set of 'The Out There'On the set of 'The Out There'

NFS: How did you have to script this series differently than you might do a more traditional series?

Lehmann: I plotted this out like any other series or film, using timelines and index cards to map out the story and character beats. The first season was a lot more 'structured', each episode having a solid cliffhanger that would lead the audience to the next ep. But for season two, l wanted the love story and general curiosity to be the main reason why the audience would watch the next episode, so l focused more on singling out moments that would be really meaningful to the audience who had watched S1 initially, and moments that l felt the characters would relish in also. There are a few episodes which feature no dialogue at all—and these offer a more insightful look into their headspace. Playing with silence as a form of anticipation is one of my favorite things to do, as both a writer and actor.

NFS: Were there other things you had to do differently in production because of this format?

Lehmann: We had to time the takes to make sure they were coming in under a minute! On the day, we would sometimes strike dialogue that ended up being too long once the actors performed.

'The Out There'Instagram feed from S1 of 'The Out There'

NFS: How would you advise other filmmakers who might be interested in exploring Instagram as a platform for their work?

Lehmann: It's obviously already a great platform for discovering artists, but is not really well known as a distributor of films. The hardest thing l found with distributing my series on the app was the fact that people are not typically looking for a web series on a photography platform. But once people found it, their feedback has been nothing but positive!

Watch the first two seasons of ‘The Out There’ now on Instagram (Note: start from the bottom)